Mexico can be a great place to retire, either full time, or if you want the best of both worlds, just during the winter months. There are many misconceptions about Mexico, but having been through the process personally, let me tell you from personal experience what to expect.
Medical Care [top]
The doctors down here are great. Leave your health concerns behind. I say this with no hesitation - the medical care I have received here in Mazatlán is ten times better than the care I have received in the USA. Why? Because there is no "factory" mentality here, and the lawyers haven't made the doctors paranoid yet. My doctor, who gave us his private cell phone number and makes house calls, is also a first rate surgeon.

A few years ago, Nadine had to have a mass removed from here right breast. We flew to the United States to have the surgery performed. Last year, she again had to have a lump removed and we had our doctor here in Mazatlán perform the same operation. The difference was night and day. In Mazatlán, her incision was smaller, her recovery time faster, and the doctors here were not afraid to prescribe medication for pain, which the doctors in the USA will only do if you are screaming and threatening bodily harm. In the states, we saw the doctor a week later at his office and he had his nurse remove the stitches. Here the doctor came to our house at least twice before removing the stitches just to see how Nadine was feeling and if there was anything he could do for her.

Let me tell you, unless I required something extremely high tech, I would prefer traveling to Mazatlán from the US for my medical care rather than the other way around. Furthermore, in 1995 a brand new hospital with all of the latest diagnostic and surgical equipment has opened here in Mazatlán. Everything they have is state of the art. Another thing, the prices here are as you would expect, much cheaper than in the US. If you are here as a tourist, chances are your current medical insurance will cover you if you incur any medical expenses while you are here visiting. That was the case with us when we still had Blue Cross of California. Since we are now out of the country for more than six months at a time, we switched insurance companies to one that handles international insurance. You can also buy coverage that is specific to Sharp hospital. It is available a the Presalud office which is right next door to the hospital. The Presalud plan covers 100% of your hospital stay at Sharp, as well as the doctors and surgeons fees, and whatever drugs you require during your stay. It also entitles you to a 70% discount on all lab tests done at Sharp even if they are for routine care. The price is based on age, but is quite reasonable. Also the price of drugs here is astonishingly less than in the USA. It is not uncommon for a drug to be ten times cheaper here than in the states. It makes you realize just how large the drug company profits are when you can buy the same thing here for ten cents on the dollar, and that was true even before the devaluation. As far as medical care goes, I'll take Mazatlán over Kaiser/HMOs/ER any day. Nadine says that unfortunately none of the doctors here look like George Clooney though. If you are still worried about your treatment by Mexican doctors, check out this article which I clipped from the San Francisco Examiner.

As an illustration of drug prices, I asked my friend Linda at Pharmacy Belmar to put together a table of the ten most common drugs that she sells. Here is the info, as of winter 2000. While the prices in pesos may vary with time, the price should remain relatively constant in terms of dollars:

Brand Name Generic Name Purpose Mexican Name How drug is supplied Peso Price US (9.5 X 1)
Amoxicillin Amoxicillin Antibiotic Gimalxina 500 mg 100 Cap $238.80 $25.14
Prilosec Omeprazol Stomach Ulcer Alboz 20 mg 60 Cap $600.00 $63.16
Penicillin Penicillin Antibiotic Potavikin 500 mg 100 Cap $218.60 $23.01
Soma Carisoprodol Pain Killer Somacid 350 mg 100 Tab $341.00 $35.89
Motrin Ibuprofen Pain Killer Dolprofen 800 mg 100 Cap $154.80 $16.29
Cipro Ciprofloxacin Antibiotic Kenzoflex 500 mg 36 Cap $546.50 $57.53
Lasix Furosemide Diuretic Osemin 40 mg 100 Tab $86.00 $9.05
Ilosone Erythromycin Antibiotic Colitromin 500 mg 50 Cap $296.25 $31.18
Retin A Tretinoin Wrinkles Retin A 0.05% 40 G $107.00 $11.26
Prozac Fluoxetine Anti Depressive Flocet 20 mg 100 Cap $1,028.50 $108.26

Tales from the dark side

Having told you how wonderful medical care is here, I am duty bound to also warn you that there are quite a few shady operators down here as well. I have heard reports of tourists falling ill and waking up in a "private clinic" where their credit cards receive more thorough examinations than their bodies. Some hotels and taxi drivers are in "partnership" with these clinics, and unless told otherwise will bring any tourist who doesn't know any better to them. It is much easier to check into one of these places than it is to check out. I strongly suggest that you go to Sharp Hospital for treatment. They are a reputable and first class organization, and the doctors there are as good as you'll find in Mazatlán. You have been warned.

If you find yourself in need of emergency transport, call the Red Cross at 981-3690 or 985-1451. They will dispatch an ambulance to take you whereever you want to go!!
Finding a place to live [top]
Perhaps your house won't quite look like the white house, but you'd be surprised what you can get for the money. Housing down here is plentiful and very affordable. Your range of options include renting, buying, and building. We have done all three, and definitely recommend building if you have the money to do it. One of the nicest experiences we have had here is building a house. Hard to believe, but true. The key is finding a good architect. We can't sing the praises of ours too highly. His name is Santiago Leon Lorda, and over his 30 year career he has built over 500 houses here in Mazatlán.

If you are not ready for building, there are many houses on the market right now for sale. The economic crisis is winding down, so the bargain days are pretty much over, but compared to many places in the USA, especially California, the houses here are downright reasonable. The trick here is either dealing directly with the owner, or finding a good and trustworthy real estate agent. Unlike the United States, real estate agents are not licensed down here, and often all bets are off. Once again, I can wholeheartedly recommend the agent that has been involved with us over the past three years, her name is Carol Ibarra. She is originally from Canada, and speaks perfect English. She has been in the real estate business for years, and knows all of the ropes. Don't even contemplate acting as your own agent. Believe me there are too many holes that you can fall into.

Now let me comment on the misconception that Americans can't own property in Mexico. First of all, depending upon where you live, this is either completely false or mostly false. The law here is that a foreigner cannot own property outright within 100 kilometers of the coast. Thus if you live in Guadalajara or Mexico City, you can certainly own property just as you could in New York or San Francisco. Now, if you want to live within 100 kilometers of the beach, in a place such a Mazatlán, you need to establish a trust through a bank of which you are the beneficiary. What this is, is a way for the Mexican government to save face. They can still sell their beach front property to foreigners while claiming that they aren't. It also provides a means to pump a few extra dollars into the Mexican banks at no cost to locals. The way it works is like this. Through an attorney, you set up a trust with a bank where you have the right to use or transfer the property for a period of 50 years. This trust is renewable, so the 50 year time limit doesn't really mean much except that you have to set up a new trust when it expires, if you still own the property. In the meantime, you can do anything you want with it - live there, rent it out, sell it. You have to pay the bank an annual fee to administer the trust, I call it ransom, but it amounts to about $1000 per year. If you sell the property, the new owner can either buy the remainder of your trust, or start a new trust of his own, if he is a foreigner. A local can just own the property without going through the trust stuff. Thus for all practical purposes, you can own property anywhere in Mexico, it just costs you an extra $1000 per year.

Bringing down your furniture [top]
You don't have to leave your precious heirlooms behind, but this might be a good excuse to do so. You can ask 5 different people and get 6 different stories on this one, but since our furniture arrived here on June 14, 1995, listen to what I have to say instead. First of all, when you come to Mexico you will probably be arriving as a tourist. A tourist cannot have his furniture imported to Mexico, so don't even try. However, it is very easy to get what is called an FM-3 status. For us, it took less than a week, and cost about $200 in fees. We got our FM-3 documents here in Mazatlán, but I believe you can do it through a Mexican consulate in the United States as well. Once you have an FM-3, you need to arrange with a shipping company to have your furniture shipped to your home in Mexico. Part of the process is providing a list of items that are to be brought down. Also, it is important that none of the items be new. Don't try to fudge on this, it isn't worth it. The customs agents will check the date of manufacture on your washers, dryers, refrigerators, TVs etc. and will give you a hard time if they find something less than a year old. Your inventory needs to include the make, model number, and serial number of anything electric, even the portable tape recorders and clock radios. For the rest of the items, descriptions such as 5 boxes of clothes and 3 boxes of kitchen articles is sufficient. You must take your inventory, with 4 copies, and your FM-3 to the nearest consulate, where they must stamp it and write in your FM-3 document that you are bringing down your furniture. You give these stamped inventories along with a notarized copy (by the consulate) of your FM-3 to your shipper, and then settle back and wait for your furniture to show up. Very likely, the guys at customs will find something amiss, even if it is not. In our case, they said that one of the portable boom boxes that we were bringing down was new, when in fact it wasn't. They will demand payment of a duty. It is a small amount, and it is far easier to pay it than to try to fight it. Once the furniture clears customs, you should have it in a few days. Everything I have said above is from personal experience, so don't believe anyone who tells you it can't be done. We heard that here for years, and believed it until we finally decided to try anyway, and we were surprised by how basically simple the whole thing was provided that you followed the procedures.

Recently (2002) I became aware of a new service provided by my friend, Robert Hudson, who will help you bring your furniture down to Mazatlán.

Keeping your car in Mexico [top]
It is possible to have an American car here for your use in Mexico, but there are some rules that you need to be aware of. First of all, your car will need to be registered at the inland border crossing. If you are here on a tourist visa, your car better leave when you do. Also you should not let other people, especially local Mazatlecos, drive your car. If they are pulled over for some reason, the policeman will undoubtably notice that the car has non-Mexican license plates, and it will be impounded. Also for those of you that have an FM-3, there is a new (2002) wrinkle. You will need to re-register your car whenever you renew your FM-3, which is once a year. This takes places at the offices of the Aduana (customs), and must be done when your FM-3 expires, even if you just entered the country and received a new permit. It (currently) doesn't cost anything for this renewal, and just involves filling out a letter and taking it to the office of the aduana. My friend, Martha Armenta has kindly provided a sample letter, which I will reprint here for your convenience:

Administrador de la Aduana de Mazatlán,

Estimado Señor:

Por medio de la presente me permito informarle a usted que
el INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE Migración de este país me ha
concedido prórroga en mi calidad migratoria por el tiempo
de _______ días, para permanecer en México, con
vencimiento el día _________.

Lo que estoy avisando a esta autoridad para los efectos del
Artículo 106, Fracción IV, inciso a de la Ley Aduanera,
con respecto a la importación temporal de mi vehículo:

MARCA: ________________
MODELO: _______________
NO. De SERIE: __________________, efectuada por la Aduana de
IMPORT PERMIT), al amparo del Permiso de Importación
Temporal No. ____________________ (THE HOLOGRAM NUMBER).
Fecha de Entrada del vehiculo: ________________________,
Para que pueda prologarse el plazo del vehículo mientras
dure mi calidad migratoria.

Safety and Security issues [top]
Badges, they have lots of stinking badges. You hear and read a lot in the media about how dangerous Mexico is: bandits, drug lords, rebellions, assassinations etc. All of these things are true, just as they are in the United States, but the media, as usual, is a great amplifier. Remember when those German tourists got shot in Florida. The German press printed the story daily in 36 point type, warning their precious citizens about the dangers of traveling to that crime and drug riddled USA. What did you think of that coverage? Did it make you want to leave your dangerous home and move to Germany? Well, the US press treats Mexico exactly the same way. Yes, there is a "rebellion" going on in Chiapas. Does that mean there is machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles away?mean there is machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles away? Of course not.

. Yes, there is a "rebellion" going on in Chiapas. Does that mean there is machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles away? Of course not.

To give you a feel for the level of crime in Mazatlán, let me tell you about our local newspaper, the Noroeste. In their local crime coverage, which is printed every day, they often include pictures of the guys who stole a bicycle, and sometimes of the gun or knife that was confiscated. Finding someone with a gun is a big deal, and gets big coverage, with pictures not only of the villain, but of the firearm as well. Can you imagine the LA Times doing this? They would need to publish a 100 page crime section daily if they were to include pictures of guys stealing bicycles. Here the crime section is 2 pages long, and often includes traffic accidents when there is one.

I can honestly say, that Nadine and I feel much safer living here in Mazatlán than we have living almost anywhere else in the United States. We used to live in Oakland, and going down the hill to Safeway for some milk was a truly frightening experience. Here, we have walked in the heart of downtown at midnight on several occasions, and have never felt threatened in any way. In fact, even late at night you will still pass young men and girls strolling on the streets or in the parks, holding hands and making out.

I believe that the reason most Americans have such a negative impression of Mexico is because of the media and the "great sucking sound" politicians. It is always easier to denigrate your neighbor than to take a good hard look at what is wrong in your own society.

The cost of Living [top]
Money may make the world go around, but it turns a little slower down here. Basically, it is possible to live in Mexico with far less money than in the United States, though that is not to say that everything here is cheaper. Labor, food, and locally manufactured goods are much less expensive than their counterparts in the US. We go to the movies here every week, and a ticket costs $2, while popcorn is $.80. Our maid, who comes in 6 days a week for 8 hours each day, is paid approximately 500 pesos or $50 per week, and she is very well paid my Mexican standards. On the other hand, if you want to buy some imported electronics or appliances, be prepared to pay double for it. A large Whirlpool side by side refrigerator can run around $2000USD, and new cars are more expensive than in the US, especially if they are imported. All in all, I would say that you can live quite well on $1000 per month, and live like a king, or at least a high level prince, on $2000 per month.

I went to the market, called Commercial Mexicana, which is a chain similar to Safeway in the USA, and jotted down some prices of some typical items on the shelf. For those of you who care, here they are, after I've converted them to dollars.

Item Quantity Price
Unleaded Gasoline 1 gallon 1.66
Bacardi White Rum 1 ltr 4.26
Liebfraumich white wine 1991 1 bottle 4.59
Kaluha 1 ltr 7.64
Coca Cola 6 pack 1.59
Orange Juice 1 ltr 1.27
Butter 360 gm 1.27
Gouda Cheese 1 kilo 6.88
Mozarella Cheese 1 kilo 6.47
Parmesean 1 kilo 13.50
Ritz Crackers 450 gm 1.08
Vegetable cooking oil 1 ltr 1.01
White Rice 1 kilo 0.64
double ply toilet paper 4 rolls 0.47
Laundry detergent 5 kilos 4.69
roast beef 1 kilo 4.04
beef tongue 1 kilo 8.09
whole chicken 1 kilo 2.01
Hamburger extra lean 1 kilo 3.64
Lowfat milk 1 gallon 1.99
white onions 1 kilo 0.32
red peppers 1 kilo 2.16
green peppers 1 kilo 0.99
pineapple 1 kilo 0.42
valencia oranges 1 kilo 0.42
apples 1 kilo 1.58
watermelon 1 kilo 0.35
wilson tennis balls 1 can of 3 2.69
johnson baby powder 400 gm 3.37
Mexican music CD 1 10.81
Sony 21 inch color TV 1 385.14
Pert plus shampoo 400 ml 2.91
Head & Shoulders shampoo 325 ml 2.01
Mennon Speed Stick deodorent 65 gm 1.51
Revlon lipstick 1 5.14
Cover Girl compact 1 5.07
movie ticket 1 2.03
bag of movie popcorn 1 0.68

If you would like a glimpse at what Mexican money looks like you can also learn more about some of the people who faces appear on the bills. They range from bandits to nuns, and provide an interesting glimpse into the national heroes of Mexico.

English vs. Spanish [top]
While speaking Spanish will definitely make your life easier and fuller, it is certainly not a requirement. Many locals speak a passable English, and anyone in the tourist industry definitely does. Also, satellite television is widespread down here, so you can still watch all of your favorite programs from the US. The only problem is that the picture and sound are so much better, you may return home and find that you are unsatisfied with your current cable system. Then your vacation to Mazatlán would turn out to be expensive indeed. All of the locals we've met really appreciate it if you make an effort to speak Spanish, and don't just assume or demand that they should speak English. They will generally meet you more than halfway if you make an attempt. Nevertheless, you can still get along just fine if your only Spanish is Buenas Dias and Adios. Recently (2005) a new and fun Spanish book was published by Bradley Kim. You can find out more about it, and see a few sample pages, if you like.
Working in Mexico [top]
Even though Mexico is a great place to live, it is not such a wonderful place to work. Just about the only well paying work that is available down here for gringos is in the timeshare sales area. If you are a good salesman, you can make good money selling timeshare to unsuspecting victims. Other than that, the employment outlook is pretty bleak, for Americans as well as Mexicans. If you have a dream of starting your own small business down here in Mazatlán, be prepared for a struggle. There is quite a bit of bureaucracy that you will need to overcome. Also, chances are there will already be some competition, and remember, the minimum wage down here is around 5 dollars per day, not per hour. If you need to earn an income down here in order to survive, I advise you to bring enough money with you so that you can live here for 3 to 6 months and still have enough left over to go home in case things don't work out. Rent something and check it out, and don't burn any bridges back home. If you're not discouraged yet, call me and I'll discourage you some more.
Frequently Asked Questions [top]
I find myself answering the same questions over and over again, so I've decided to just write my answers here and refer you, gentle reader, to this location.

As background, the message I receive usually goes something like this:
Buenos Dias Nadine and Henry,
All me to introduce myself, my name is Bill, and my wife is Hillary. We have both been working for the government all our lives, and now find ourselves ready to retire. Our social security income just isn't cutting it for us here on Park Avenue, so we are considering moving to Mazatlán. We aren't looking for anything extravagent, like we had in DC, just something comfortable and moderate. Please Obi Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope.
Best wishes,

Can we live on $1000 USD per month?

The short answer is yes, but it is a little more complicated than that. A big factor in your quality of life will be whether or not you own your own home or not. If you do not, and must pay rent out that $1000 per month, you are going to be living in a largely Mexican neighborhood, probably either renting an apartment or a small house. That will take $200-$300 out of your monthly income, leaving you with about $700 per month. Gas, water, sewer, and electricity will run about $100 per month. Food perhaps $50 per week. That brings you down to $350 left over for anything else. You can probably squeeze in a maid a couple of times a week for $100 per month. Internet access is $25/month for dialup, and cable TV is another $25 per month. Another $25 per month for a telephone, and we're at $175 per month for everything else. You can eat out a few times, or go to the movies every day, but probably not both. Also it would be best not to get very sick. So it can be done, but you won't be living the stress free life of luxury you were hoping for.

If you own your own home, and still have $1000 per month to live on, things are much better. Instead of $300 per month for rent, you will have to pay about $80 per month for trust fees and property taxes. You also can't be kicked out of your house on a whim.

What do we do first?

Before you do anything, come down for a visit. If you are planning on living here full time, (year round) come in July, August or September, not in February or March. It is best to experience Mazatlán at its worst, not its best. If you are on a very tight budget, there are plenty of $20 and $30 dollar a day motels around. Stay in one for a few days, buy a local paper, and start checking out the available rentals. You can stay at Chrissy's Budget Apartment for $550 per month, a good deal if it is available. Then hire a taxi for a day and start looking around to get a feeling for the area and the types of homes or apartments that are available. Moving here is a big decision, and should not be rushed.

Can we drive down there with our household goods in a U-haul or do we have everything shipped?

You can do it with a U-Haul. You might also consider contacting Robert Hudson, who has made a small business out of helping people bring their furniture to Mazatlán.

How much would shipping cost and whom should we contact that is reliable and honest?

Personally we moved with United Van Lines. We had to create the list of household items, but they pretty much did the rest. One morning at 4am their truck showed up in front of our house. It cost us $6000 as I recall, but then again we had a lot of stuff.

Will we be able to have Internet connection in our rented home?

Yes. Dial up is available everywhere, so if you have a phone, you can get internet access. You might also be able to get DSL, depending on your locaton. Similarly for cable. Costs range from about $20 per month for dial up to $50 per month for DSL, with cable in the middle. You can't have cable without also subscribing to TV. Such are the benefits of a monopoly.

Is it advisable to bring our car?

Many people do, but there is some hassle involved. Personally, we prefer to buy local. If you plan on living in Mazatlán full time, our advice is to sell your car in the US, and then buy another one here. Your best and most economical route is to buy a used car. They are much less expensive, and the yearly registration fees are much lower as well. Also you never have to worry about the arcane rules that govern imported vehicles.

Does the insurance cost a lot?

First let me say that all I really know about insurance, both in the US and Mexico, is that the insurance companies are very good at collecting premiums. I have no idea whether or not they are any good at paying claims, since we've never had one. Having said that, I can say that we pay around $800 a year for car insurance, $1000 per year per person for local health insurance, and about $500 for homeowners insurance.

Where do we get a permit from to live in Mazatlán?

No permit required. If you come in as a tourist, just fill in the form as you drive/fly in. If you want to stay all year round, you can still do the tourist thing, but you'll have to leave the country every six months and re-enter. It is probably better to get an FM3 or eventually an FM2. You can do this in the USA, but it is probably easier to do it down here. Plan on spending a day or two the first time. Look in the Pacific Pearl for ads by people who can help you through the process, especially the first time.

And, when we arrive there, where do we go that's reasonable and nice until we find a modest but nice home to rent?

That is a very difficult question to answer, as one person's nice is another person's dumpy. It also greatly depends on your budget. There are several mailing lists and online forums that you can subscribe to that might be able to help you. Try visiting the Mazinfo Group or click on the WhatsUpMaz Forum, finally there is also the Pacific Pearl bulletin board. I'm sure someone on those lists will be able to help you.

I'm assuming you took pets with you when you moved there. How much red tape is there to bring in dogs and cats? And, do the local people respect animals?

Bring pets in and out of Mexico is very easy. As for the locals respecting pets, it certainly depends on the person, but in general I would say that pets are not treated as well in Mexico as in the US or Europe. But on the other hand, neither are the people.

Are Americans treated well, there, and what is the level of crime? Also, is there a big drug problem?

Americans in general are treated very well, even better than the locals. For example, some hotels will deny access to locals coming in from the beach, unless they can show that they are guests of the hotel. I have never seen that happen to a gringo. As for drugs, they are certainly available, but in the areas you are most likely to frequent, you won't see any drugged out low lifes wandering around.

If you needed emergency health care, would you trust the local hospital to manage your care, at least until you could safely be moved to a location of your choice?

We prefer to have our health care in Mazatlán.

Quote of the day:
Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Gene Fowler

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